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Supreme Court Recap - 2014 Term

I do a review every year of the US Supreme Court decisions; this is the one for the 2014 term.  You can find previous ones by typing "Supreme Court Recap," followed by the year you're looking for, in the search box on the right.  Below is a quick description of each case, followed by links to post I did discussing oral argument or the decision.  Some good decisions on mens rea in criminal cases, a decent 4th Amendment decision on drug dog sniffs, and a very bad decision on the Confrontation Clause.

Davis v. Ayala - A Federal court can't grant habeas relief unless it finds that the state court decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law."  Ayala holds that when a state court finds a constitutional error was harmless, a Federal court can't overturn it unless it finds that the harmless error determination, not the error itself, meets that standard.  (Brief discussion here.)

Elonis v. US - Court reverses Elonis conviction for making a threat against his wife in a Facebook post, holding that the trial court erred in refusing Elonis' requested jury instruction that the government had to prove that he intended to communicate a threat.  Although it involves an interpretation of a Federal statute, it has some good language about scienter as an element of all crimes.  (Decision here; discussion of applicability to Ohio law here.)

Glossip v. Gross - By 5-4 vote, Court affirms Oklahoma's use of a drug in executions.  Majority snipes at defense lawyers for conducting a war of attrition on the death penalty, and Breyer and Ginsburg call for re-examination of whether the death penalty is unconstitutional, so several members of the majority snipe at them, too.  (Oral argument discussed here, decision here.)

Heien v. North Carolina - A reasonable mistake by a police officer as to whether a defendant has committed a traffic violation can still justify a stop.  (Oral argument discussed here, decision here.)

Jennings v. Stephens - Habeas decision, but should have wider applicability.  Jennings had argued three theories of ineffective assistance of counsel, and trial court find for him on two but denied the other.  The appellate court reversed on the first two, and refused to consider the third one because Jennings hadn't cross-appealed.  Court reverses, following usual rule that a cross-appeal isn't necessary if the appellee merely seeks to uphold the judgment on different grounds, and not expand it.  (Discussion here.)

Johnson v. US - The Armed Career Criminal Act adds 15 years to the prison sentence of anyone convicted of a Federal crime if he's been convicted of three "violent" prior felonies (state or Federal).  The statute defines several violent felonies, then has a residual clause which defines a violent felony as one that "involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of injury."  By 8-1 vote, Court strikes down residual clause as too vague.

McFadden v. US - Decision on mens rea requirement for possession of analogue drugs.  (Decision here.)

Ohio v. Clark - Court essentially holds that statements by young children about sexual abuse are not testimonial under Crawford.  Also indicates that Crawford may be a vote or two from getting overruled. (Decision here.)

Rodriguez v. US - Any extension of time for a traffic stop to bring a drug dog to the scene, absent reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, violates the 4th Amendment.  Lower court had held that a "de minimis" delay - here, eight minutes - could be excused. (Decision here.)

Woods v. Donald - Per curiam summary reversal of 6th Circuit decision which had held that attorney provided per se ineffective assistance because he was out of the room during testimony concerning co-defendants.  Court had held in US v. Cronic in 1984 that there were certain cases where prejudice would be presumed from attorney's dereliction, but this isn't one of them; prejudice had to be shown.

Yates v. US - Court reverses Yates conviction of violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act - which imposes criminal liability on anyone who "knowingly . . . destroys . . . any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence" a Federal investigation.  Yates had thrown three undersized groupers out of his fishing boat after it was stopped by game inspectors and ordered back to port.  Scary thing is that reversal came by a 5-4 vote.  (Oral argument here, decision here.)


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